Is It Okay to Kick People Out of Campaign Rallies? That Depends.

While there may not be a single policy issue this year’s presidential candidates can agree on, there does seem to be a bipartisan consensus on one thing: Protest will not be tolerated at campaign rallies. 

The Trump campaign has gotten the most publicity for removing protesters, in part because of the violence and racial slurs with which Trump supporters have repeatedly confronted detractors. But the campaigns of Hillary Clinton, Ted Cruz, and Bernie Sanders have also kicked people out for expressing views that don’t amount to unequivocal support. Too often, these removals have had a racial component.

This election takes place in the #BlackLivesMatter era, and anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim sentiments have all too often taken center stage. As a result, many of the protesters marched out by police have been people of color, leading to some upsetting images. That’s certainly not what we want our democracy to look like.

Campaign events are open to the general public, so the nondiscrimination laws that apply in all places of public accommodation govern them. A campaign can no more exclude people based on their race or religion than a restaurant can refuse to serve them on that basis.

Here’s the thing, though: Campaigns can opt to exclude protesters from campaign rallies. The First Amendment doesn’t stop them — in fact, the First Amendment protects the campaign’s right to control its message. Generally, a campaign rents space for its rallies, which gives it the right to exclude people for “trespass” as well as get  law enforcement’s help to do so.

A campaign can declare someone to be a trespasser if their presence interferes with the campaign’s chosen message. At a rally, for instance, enthusiastic sign-waving can be a requirement of attendance. A campaign has the right to control its own political theater, within the limits of nondiscrimination law. Deeming someone trying to attend a rally to be a protester because of her race or religion would, of course, violate the law. 

In other words: Campaigns can exclude based on viewpoint, but not based on race. What about government actors, like law enforcement? They can enforce trespass law, so if the Clinton campaign tells police to keep out everyone wearing t-shirts with purple writing, police can prevent those people from entering. But police can’t take it upon themselves to exclude protesters absent a specific directive from the campaign. Nor can they exclude all Black students or all women in hijab, even if they assume those people to be protesters.

What all this means is that particular facts really matter in evaluating these incidents. Whether or not police or campaign staffers were acting lawfully when they removed someone depends on the way that decision was made, which we usually can’t determine by watching available video footage.   

Let’s remember, however, that campaign events are milestones in our democratic process. Regardless of the legality of excluding protesters from inside campaign rallies, the events of the last few weeks have shown that people feel a particularly profound need to express themselves during election season, and they’re going to figure out ways to do that. Campaigns, of course, have no right to control the messages expressed in public spaces outside rallies. 

One of the candidates will end up president, and he or she will take an oath to uphold the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Presidents absolutely may not exclude people from government-sponsored events because of their peaceful expression, their beliefs, or their race. It would be nice to see free speech and nondiscrimination values at play in the run-up to the presidency as well.

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Anonymous

"many of the protesters marched out by police have been people of color, leading to some upsetting images. That’s certainly not what we want our democracy to look like."

If a disproportionate number of people who act abusive are people of color I don't feel bad for them at all. The idea that we have to have a racial quota and if a disproportionate percent of people who go to these rallies to heckle and disrupt are black they cannot be removed because of the color of their skin is bs. These protesters use their minority status to intimidate people into putting up with their abusive and disruptive behavior.

Anonymous

Protest exists for the minority party to speak out, loudly if necessary, against the majority rule or majority opinion.

When the rally is full of white people, and they say a lot of negative stuff about brown people, and a bunch of brown people show up and act upset and disrupt the rally, who is really the victim here? (In my mind, no one. That's what democracy looks like.)

When a brown person yells and a white person commits assault and battery in response, and white people cheer, and white cops throw them out, who is really the victim? (Hint: It's the guy who got punched.)

The article just said a politician/campaign team would be justified in certain situations to remove people for dissenting opinions. You just can't remove them because of the color of their skin. If you can't manage to separate those two concepts, your brain is not firing on all cylinders. And frankly, you sound bitter.

Whoever you vote for, just know my vote is going to be canceling yours out.

Anonymous u

Yea. I'm white and u should consider yourself lucky that that is all u have to put up with their "disruptive and abusive behavior" granted by their "minority status" How old r u and what planet have u been living on? Slaves, water- cannoned, Bitten by German Shepards, put up with racists like Trump and George Wallce their whole live. The dirty looks they've been given their whole life. I know' I know, u think it's all in the past. Wake up ur dream time is over

MJ Eckhouse

Would have been nice to know about the transphobia on the Bernie Sanders link before clicking on it. Would have been nice for CNN to describe it as transphobic, but no, that'd be "editorializing" cause we're not real people to the media yet.

Interesting info on the legality of removing protesters. That's all theoretical though; in theory everyone knows Trump rallies are whites only.

Anonymous

There's nothing even remotely "transphobic" in the link to the CNN segment with Bernie Sanders. They are talking about media coverage of Donald Trump. Transgender issues aren't even mentioned whatsoever.

Anonymous

why are there more black people being thrown out of these rallies? it's because black people do not know how to act like civilized human beings therefore they are ejected. why do we have to cater to these bunch of racist scumbag black lives matter? the only racial slurs coming out of these rallies are from the Trashy black people. get it right ACLU even though we know who you cater to and we also know that you are a bunch of liars

Anonymous

Just WOW!! Can you find any compassion to try to understand their plight ? The names you called and the words you wrote reek of a very angry person . You need to be honest in your assertions , which you aren't . You seriously just said that no one at the trump rallies are yelling hate filled and derogatory words towards minorities , gays, and women. I'm honestly sorry you aren't willing to be open to compassion before anger. I find it works for me and I learned a lot about the reality of life from my ivory tower .

Anonymous

So, the students who were standing quietly, at a rally held on their school grounds, deserved what they got because..... They're black? The woman who did nothing and had an ex military officer scream in her face and shove her... She deserved that? For having the audacity to disagree, politely and quietly? Read the first amendment, and I'm being generous and assuming you can read. It doesn't say freedom of speech for the rich and powerful, for the whites only, or if you say it politely. Or says for all. Everyone. Don't like it, don't listen.

Anonymous

Generally, anyone can be a critic. That is what the aclu is and like a critic it expects its opinions to not only be heard and followed in a legal sense but to have its ideals resolved peacefully in a court of law. That is all great but what you people consistently forget is the americans who have laid down their lives to give you a society where you can conduct your little tea party for all the failed peoples and cultures of the world who hate the principles of white anglo saxon government and rule but who continually cross our shores and borders because our way is the best. Those that do are cowards from a cowardly way and your intelligent legal minds should be able to not only make that distinction but deal with such people or groups in a way that does not compromise the integrity of the state. The terrorist or the black man in the ghetto is not a person of principle. He is only a person interested in getting his childish way. He would not respect a rule of law or an opinion contrary to his, like the emotional fascist he is he meets those contrary to him with death, often physical. You would do well to remember the first word of your acronym name and the country in which you conduct your business, lest you find yourself little better than the useless scum you often represent, and truly representative of what is your popular perception.

Anonymous

Is this Bill O'Reilly? :-)

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